29 January 2017

The Sad - It Ain't Easy/ Box

Label: Phoenix
Year of Release: 1991

You've probably already guessed from the very fact that I wrote about Starbuck's "Do You Like Boys" not long ago, but overtly gay glam rock fascinates me. You have to put it into historical perspective. Until 1967, homosexual activity was illegal in the UK. Glam rock may have arrived in the middle of a new, forward thinking decade, with more folk looking to the future as Noddy Holder suggested, but it was still a mere few years away from some rather heavy-handed bigotry. There were still plenty of intolerant, prudish, vinegary "silent majority" types on the prowl who might have in some instances accepted the ban on homosexual activity being lifted, but almost certainly still didn't want to hear from the people who "did that sort of thing".

Which makes singles like "Do You Like Boys" and this one, "It Ain't Easy", truly astonishing. David Bowie putting his arms around Mick Ronson on "Top of the Pops" could have been interpreted in a number of ways and shrugged off as an innocent matey gesture. This single, on the other hand, is upfront and blatant, and frankly couldn't give a fig.

Telling the tale of a married rock star who is incapable of remaining faithful to his wife, and happily sleeps with both men and women depending on which mood he's in, it's very daring for 1971. Of course, it's impossible not to feel a little sorry for his wife, though one can only assume that she was forewarned. If not, the issue of this single may have acted as a highly inappropriate public announcement. "It ain't easy for my wife to live with me!" declares the stadium chant chorus, while the singer backs this up with "There's always some young girl or even boy in sight/ and I don't care it's what I take home at night".

My copy pictured above is a test pressing, but this was officially issued on the small Phoenix label, and obviously sold very few copies indeed. A shame, but hardly really surprising. It apparently enjoyed support from Annie Nightingale at the time, but it would stun me if I learned that it picked up any breakfast radio or "drivetime" play on Radio One. While it's no lost classic, there's plenty to enjoy here, and it cuts a daring dash from start to finish.

As for who the intriguingly named The Sad were, the marvellous 70s glam and powerpop blog "Purepop" comes to our rescue once again, and informs us that they were Giorgio Uccellini on vocals, Terry Brown on bass, Stuart Wilson on drums, and Marco Uccellini on lead guitar and vocals.  An album was recorded but shelved due to Marco suffering a nervous breakdown, and the band seemed to have lost momentum thereafter. A shame, and it would be very interesting to hear what the album had to offer.

22 January 2017

Jon Ford - Ice Cream Song/ This Was The Time

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1969

John Bradford was already a veteran of the Wolverhampton music scene by the time this landed in the shops - originally a member of Brad Ford and the Sundowners alongside Dave Hill (later of Slade fame, if this really needed to be underlined!) he eventually rejected sharing fame with his bandmates for the temptations of a solo career. Renamed Eli Bonaparte by his keen manager and given a spot on "Top of the Pops" for his single "Never An Everyday Thing", his future seemed bright.

However, the record was withdrawn from the charts after suspicious buying patterns were noticed and hype was suspected. While "Never An Everyday Thing" is now occasionally regarded as an undeserved flop and one of the most frequently heard "buried" sixties records, the incident did him no favours. He changed his name again to Jon Ford and continued a hitless career.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, a lot of the Jon Ford era recordings have since found a keen home at Northern Soul clubs, most especially "You've Got Me Where You Want Me" which was a regular Wigan spin. One listen to this flop cover version of The Dynamics "Ice Cream Song" should tell you that the man's voice was up to the task, however, and his taste in dramatic, uptempo R&B numbers made him a shoe-in for the soulies. 

Is it better than the original? Arguably not, but it's still a damn fine listen and his vocal delivery is almost blissful in places. A number of his singles command high prices these days, and indeed this one isn't usually especially cheap - however, as you can hear, mine was a cut-price offering due to heat damage near the start of the record. If you want to hear a clean version, YouTube is your friend.

18 January 2017

Reupload - Embassy Big 4 - Anyway Anyhow Anywhere/ Mr Tambourine Man

Label: Embassy
Year of Release: 1965

We've been here before, and regular readers will know the drill, but for the benefit of those of you who have just tuned into this blog... Embassy were a tireless label in the early sixties, churning out endless discs of session musicians covering the hits of the day. Their platters would then end up in the budget rack of Woolworths waiting to be purchased by punters who felt that their approximations of hit singles were affordable alternatives to the real thing. So infamous were their offerings that John Lennon even jokingly referenced the label as a possible home for The Beatles when their chances of getting signed seemed slim.

Like the "Top of the Pops" albums that followed them, Embassy recordings were a decidedly mixed bag, ranging from faithful interpretations to wayward messes. This "Big Four" EP is particularly absurd in that it contains two ballads and two counter-cultural anthems, so Gene Pitney's "Looking Thru The Eyes of Love" shares Side One with "Anywhere, Anyhow, Anywhere" by The Who, and Side Two pairs "Mr Tambourine Man" with Lulu's top ten ballad "Leave A Little Love". If ever you needed proof that such things as youth splinter groups and demographics hadn't been fully defined by 1965, here it is staring at you in the face.

"Left and to the Back" readers are likely to be more interested in "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" by The Who and "Mr Tambourine Man", and their interest will probably be inflated further still when they realise that neither version is particularly faithful. "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" is, in particular, a really interesting approximation due to the fact that Embassy studio band The Jaybirds clearly don't know what to do with The Who's sound. The drumming sounds primitive and punkish rather than copying Keith Moon's ambitious style, the lead vocals yelping, desperate and close to the style of Jim Sohns of The Shadows Of Knight (though don't get excited - I'm not suggesting it is him) and the feedback-heavy break of the original is replaced with something a bit more synthetic and measured. It sounds more like a bunch of teenagers in a garage trying to copy The Who, and whilst I doubt that's actually the case, it's a peculiar old listen to say the least. It doesn't top The Who's original, but something about the hollow, primal simplicity of it almost reminds me of The White Stripes, which is no bad thing at all.

Meanwhile, The Typhoons - a session band previously known to handle The Beatles material on Embassy, although I don't know if the personnel remained the same throughout all their recordings - battle with "Mr Tambourine Man". It's a fey, gentle take which sounds influenced more by English folk than the American folk rock scene that spawned The Byrds, sounding sleepy and contended rather than urgent, preaching and elated. Readers won't be in a hurry to replace The Byrds version on their iPods with this one, but once again the different approach is at least an interesting interpretation.

As for Terry Brandon's take on "Looking Through The Eyes of Love" and Sally Hyde's version of "Leave A Little Love" - I hate to be dismissive, but neither track really captured my imagination in the first place, so my opinions on these reinterpretations are unlikely to be balanced or fair. They're here for anyone who feels curious enough to hear them, though.

And I hate to say it, chaps, but sorry for the surface noise on some of these recordings. It's difficult to find Embassy records in Excellent condition, and what we've got is the best I can obtain at the moment.

15 January 2017

The Vibrants - Something About You, Baby/ Danger Zone

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1967

Australian hitmakers often got a raw deal from global audiences in the sixties (and far beyond that period, actually). It didn't make much difference to the average A&R person in London, Paris, Los Angeles or Berlin whether an Aussie act had managed a top ten hit in the regional Sydney and Adelaide charts - unless the group were prepared to literally ship themselves over to a new country and tour properly and do promo there for a long time, they were a very distant and not particularly safe bet. The only real alternative market these bands had was the more accessible (but not exactly populous or profitable) New Zealand. 

It's largely for this reason that Australian hit compilations from bygone decades are a treasure-trove of mostly unheard and often great work. The smaller size of the Australian marketplace poses all sorts of horrible challenges to the British collector, too, as anyone who has ever tried to obtain a DJ copy of The Easybeats "Sorry" will tell you - it's an Australian hit, but finding a reasonably priced copy in the UK is almost as bad as hunting down a psychedelic rarity. 

The Vibrants here began life as the backing group for the singer Bobby James before he wandered off to form the Bobby James Syndicate. After that point, Geoff Skewes (organ), Terry Osmand (guitar), Terry Radford (guitar), Brenton Haye (sax), Jeff Gurr (bass) and Rick Kent (drums) forged their own way on the Australian gig circuit.

A few line-up changes later they managed to sign to EMI in their own country, and this, their second single, sold well enough to chart in Melbourne and a number of other Australian territories. It's a cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland track which turns it into an - er - vibrant piece of mod-pop, close to the early Small Faces work in places, albeit with a bit less roughness around the edges. It was a big enough hit that it still features on the 4CD "Greatest Australian Singles of the 60s" box set released by Warner Music, but there's a YouTube clip below for anyone who wants to hear the track. It's propulsive and nagging, and if it had been issued by a British act would have been compiled on a sixties rarities CD here way before now.

The flip "Danger Zone" is another cover, which showcases how competently the band could recreate soul sounds - it's not difficult to hear how they must have been a huge draw on the Australian circuit. 

The group's line-up, always a fragile and constantly fracturing thing, meant that numerous members came and went throughout their lifetime, but the Vibrants (in name at least) finally called it a day at the end of 1971. 

11 January 2017

Adrienne Posta - Cruisin' Casanova/ Sing Me

Label: President
Year of Release: 1976

Adrienne Posta is probably a familiar name to many "Left and to the Back" readers - not only did she have a long career in the sixties bubbling under the national music charts with a variety of singles on Decca Records, she was also an actress with a successful career. Obtaining parts in "To Sir With Love", "Up The Junction" and "Budgie", her face became a reasonably familiar one on people's black and white sets and also the "silver screen", as people very rarely ever referred to it in real life.

Her most notable music release was probably "Shang A Doo Lang" in 1964, penned for her by those budding songsmiths Jagger and Richards and produced by Andrew Loog Oldham in a Phil Spector style. Despite the pedigree of the people involved in the track, it stiffed terribly, and subsequent releases penned by others didn't really perform as hoped either.

She eventually used other aspects of her stage school education to obtain an alternative career, and concentrated predominantly on acting. While she gained parts in some respected sixties British films and proved herself to be a highly accomplished actress, I highly doubt her role as Carol in "Adventures of a Taxi Driver" (not to be confused with the similarly titled Scorsese film, which I'm sure you weren't about to do) features highly on her CV. Like most of the "Adventures of..." films, it was a fairly basic piece of sex farce which offered more titillation than it did a sophisticated plot or action. 

Still, she was more than content to put her name to the theme tune, which she performs here in a smooth and sultry way which ill suits the film itself. It seems to suggest that the taxi driver in the main role is a sophisticated gent, a fare-collecting James Bond character, and not a rather ordinary and abrupt mini-cab driver who almost certainly harbours a sexually transmitted disease. Despite that, it has a certain cabaret sweetness about it. Posta's vocal performances were always good, and her earlier work features on endless sixties compilations as a result - this, on the other hand, has been under-exposed.

Inevitably it didn't provide her with the hit her career had been missing. I doubt many of the mostly male cinema goers for this film left the screenings of "Adventures of a Taxi Driver" thinking about the title music. 

8 January 2017

Circus Circus Circus - Inside The Inside Out Man/ No Hips

Label: BDI
Year of Release: 1987

When Rik Mayall passed away, one of the things I expected to go a tiny bit viral - but never did - was the clip of him appearing in a music video with the obscure eighties indie band Circus Circus Circus. During the promo for their debut single "Butcher Bitches", Mayall plays the role of a nerdish fan of the group, aping their dress sense and their moves (right down to falling over when one of their guitarists accidentally hits the deck). I'd be a liar if I claimed it was a red-hot, top grade Mayall performance, but it was done for free when he was feeling unwell, and entirely for the benefit of a band who didn't even have a proper record deal at that point. If nothing else, I felt that it underlined his good nature and his spirit, as well as being a performance which had barely ever been repeated anywhere.

"Butcher Bitches" was a fairly swinging piece of garage rock and roll, and didn't really prepare anybody for their follow up. While "Inside The Inside Out Man", written about Francis Bacon, initially has a faintly "House of the Rising Sun" air of doom and despondency about it, it's closer in style to the moodier indie releases of the day; more long mac and shades than cardigans and NHS glasses. It's also really rather good. Filled to the brim with moody guitar riffs and quivering sixties vocal harmonies, it's a huge leap forward from their debut. It managed to get television exposure on "The Chart Show" at the point of its release, but they never gained serious traction in the indie charts despite the publicity - and two more singles later ("Magic Girl" and "Under The Library") and they threw in the towel. An album was recorded but never released, something which somebody could consider remedying.

The group were formed in Beckenham, South London in 1985 and consisted of Doug Hart on vocals, Ric Clark and Mark Shaw on guitars, Richard Bentley on bass guitar and Rich Spicer on drums. 

4 January 2017

Reupload - Village East - Building With A Steeple/ Tumblin' Down

Label: MGM
Year of Release: 1967

I'm not really too sure why or what's happened, but a freightload of American Sunshine Pop records - a lot of them on MGM, and almost all of them relatively obscure - seem to have washed up on British shores in recent months.  Some collectors assumed that this one never made it past the promo stage, for example, but here's the stock copy as living proof, live and at large in the UK.

"Building With A Steeple" is probably the best example I've found yet, scrubbing away any edgy credibility it might have with a Christian message and yet sounding so downright lovely it's hard to understand how anyone could resist.  There's not much originality present here as the vocal harmonies and arrangements echo the likes of The Mamas and Papas, but crucially it's not inferior to their work in any way and was clearly extremely unlucky not to have sold in greater quantities.  There's a yearning to the vocals and an intricacy to the delicately strummed and plucked arrangements which would soothe the most troubled soul, and like all the best West Coast sounds from the period it sounds simultaneously lush and sincere.  The very concept of sanctuary in a church on a blazing hot Californian day sounds thoroughly appealing here.

Sadly, The Village East didn't release any singles after this one effort, as apparently the lead singer (whose name I've been unable to locate) immediately left to pursue an unsuccessful career as a solo artist after this flopped.  There's a sense that a lot of potential was wasted here, and my guess is that if they'd released some more tracks of a similar quality they may have broken through.  As for the song, it was also recorded by The Eighth Day (with a near-identical arrangement) and Frank Sinatra Jr.

I originally uploaded this entry in April 2013. Since then, Jim Holway, an ex-member of Village East has been in touch, sending some very old pictures of the group and a bit more information. It seems the band consisted of him, Terry McAloon and Nancy Petachi:

I have no idea what they are doing now. The reason the group broke up was because Nancy Petachi had a boyfriend who told her that she didn’t need us that she was the star and it all started. I told her lets make it first and then you can do what you want but she wouldn’t listen. Ronnie Dante would not put up with that and got The Eighth Day to record the songs. 

We were working on another single at the time called "A Million Lights". It was a great song but we never made it to the studio. What a shame. We were the pick hit of the week in Erie Pa and I know that for a fact cause a good friend of mine's cousin was visiting for the summer and when I started to play the song she knew all the words. I asked her how she knew it and she said "Are you kidding, it’s the pick hit of the week in Erie".

We were written up in Billboard as well. Called our song a real toe tapper. I can’t find that article.

We had a shot and blew it. Oh Well. That was a long time ago. I still do music and my group that broke up a few years ago had a couple of cd’s. The latest was called "Doo Wop to Motown".

Thanks so much to Jim for getting in touch and sending us that information and picture. If any other member of the band would like to drop me a line or add memories, please do drop me a comment. 

1 January 2017

Peter Franc - I'll Move Along/ Song For Every Season

Label: Dawn
Year of Release: 1972

Here's a quick burst of sunshine to cut through that nasty New Year's Day hangover.  "I'll Move Along" is a piece of acoustically driven upbeat folk rock which heavily resembles the more bouyant work of cult psychedelic figure Nick Garrie. Peppy and sugary, but knowing just where to draw the line so it doesn't become too overbearing, it's a lovely and incredibly well produced piece of work which will have many of you reaching for the Alka Seltzer with a bit more of a spring in your steps.

But who was the mysterious Peter Franc? It would seem that he was none other than Peter Pye, the Walthamstow-born rhythm guitarist who replaced Martin Murray in The Honeycombs when that man left the group at the end of 1964. Regrettably, Peter joined the band long after "Have I The Right?" topped the charts and therefore didn't create as much of an impression in the public's mind as his predecessor. 

It's not altogether clear why he chose to rename himself Peter Franc to launch his solo career in the seventies - it might have been to distance himself from his sixties career, or even to draw a distinction between himself and the label he was coincidentally signed to. Unlike his work with The Honeycombs, this was much more adult orientated fare, and by signing him to their progressive Dawn imprint, Pye Records were clearly hoping he could shift some serious hippy units. While many previous sixties stars tried to move into bubblegum pop or glam rock, Franc's aspirations clearly lay in being a serious singer-songwriter. 

The label seemed to have some considerable faith in him. Two singles followed this one ("Ballad of the Superstar" and "Flag of Convenience") and two LPs, "Profile" and "En Route". Neither really broke through in any big way, and by 1975 he had been dropped and seems to have disappeared from the music scene not long afterwards.